For many that isn't even a question for consideration. The answer is barefoot and booted! In an article just released on The Horse.com (
To Shoe or Not to Shoe?
Shoeing decisions should depend on the horse, the integrity of his feet, and how you use him. Some clients of Julie Bullock, DVM, an equine practitioner who primarily treats hoof problems, based in Mt. Sidney, VA, are interested in leaving their horses unshod. "That's fine unless they are doing endurance riding or steady training. In this region a horse needs some kind of foot protection but it doesn't have to be shoes."
Some of the hoof boots in use today are very good. "Easyboot has come out with all kinds of new products, including glue-on boots, for people who want barefoot horses, but some added protection for a competition," says Bullock. Horses have done 100-mile endurance rides with boots that glue to the hoof wall. These can be taken off after the horse is finished with the event. There are other products available, such as sole guards, that can be applied to the bottom of the foot.
Bullock advocates shoes or hoof protection for most horses that work for a living. "Even horses ridden mainly in an arena may need shoes," she says. "People use stone dust here in their riding rings, and the footing is so abrasive that I've seen barefoot horses go lame; the hoof capsule can't grow fast enough and feet get worn down to the quick. This is where a sole guard product or boot can help, if you don't want your horse shod," she says.
There are many products available, and your farrier can recommend some that might be helpful. EasyCare (maker of the Easyboot) was the pioneer in this field, but now there are a multitude of products available that are simple to use.
Heather Smith Thomas
Vet Dealer & Hoof Care Practitioner Accounts
I manage the hoof care practitioner and veterinarian dealer accounts at EasyCare. An integral part of my job is to stay current in all areas of barefoot hoof care, which enables me to serve this vital group of EasyCare dealers at the next level.